‘Heroes’ // Mercury Theatre

‘Heroes’ was delightful. 

Mercury Theatre in Wynnum is a small company with a lot of heart and a long-standing tradition.  As audiences entered the small RSL Hall for their latest production of ‘Heroes’, they were taken back to a time where the theatre was all about community – raffle tickets were being sold, a simple bar was provided, and the tables displayed old photo albums of past shows and memorabilia.  The hall was decorated in the show’s theme with camouflage netting hiding the sides of the hall, paintings of military chevrons on show and Remembrance Day poppies being sold.

‘Heroes’, a three-man play by Gérald Sibleyras and translated to English by Tom Stoppard, centres around three retired French World War I veterans, living out their days in a retirement community.  The play is in the style of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting For Godot’ in that the dialogue is quite conversational and there is no real action or plot.

Set in 1959, the story occurs on the terrace of an old soldier’s home, spanning about a year. As time passes we observe these gentlemen as they reminisce about their pasts, argue about the present and attempt to plan a way out of their current situation.  Each character has their secrets, their idiosyncrasies, and their dreams, and it is this combination that weaves a fascinating tapestry.

Overall, the production was very well rehearsed and executed with clear decisions made by director Anri De Jager who focused on the characterisations and relationships of the trio. However, changes between scenes were long. While this allowed for actors to change costumes, the lengthy breaks could have been covered more effectively with music from the era.  The lighting was clean and gave the audience clear sight lines at all times.

Set design by Cassandra Morriss was simple, yet effective with just a handful of chairs, some gardening implements, and a sneaky stone statue of a dog. It was lovely to see a hand-painted backdrop and this added depth to the creation of the world.  The front proscenium was also well done, however, more could have been made of the setting, considering the set did not change throughout the performance.

The actors took on the large task of a dialogue-heavy play and performed their roles well.  With only a handful of dropped lines on opening night, the sometimes-circular dialogue (we revisited most plot points more than once) was well paced and engaging.  A small impediment to this though was the use of French accents while speaking in English. This feature was not consistent and at times, distracted from the witty and wordy interplay.  

Terry Grant (playing Gustave) performed with commanding energy throughout. Of particular note were his charming interactions with the stone dog, building such a camaraderie with it that as an audience member, you could almost swear it moved. Another standout part of Grant’s performance was his handling of Gustave’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A war veteran who can no longer walk to the end of the garden alone was a hard thing to see, but Grant wisely did not over-play this moment, giving it full weight and poignancy in its simplicity.

Roy Nunn as Philippe was well-paced and sweet. While Nunn had some problems with his projection on the night, his physical comedy was precise and to the point, including a delightful stint where Philippe served as Gustave’s backpack. He played the grumpy irrationality of his character convincingly, and this allowed the audience to become invested in farfetched plot points such as his ludicrous concern for the nurses birthday calendar.

Trevor Bond portrayed Henri with a sensitive authority that rounded out the trio nicely with balance and depth. Bond’s moments spent reminiscing about the youthfulness of love and adoration were blissful, and you could almost smell the perfume of flowers in the air as he talked about going on his afternoon constitutional.

One thing that this production handled particularly well where the “dated” sections of the script. The idea of “biffing” a matron who wrongs you, or grabbing at them from behind as they go about their duties are just some of the topics that are discussed within the play at length. Full commendation must be given to the cast and production team for how strongly they grounded these problematic ideas in the time of #MeToo movement. A simple look, shared as one of the trio members spoke of some escapade, carried volumes of weight and underpinned the moment with disapproval. Rather than simply laughing it off as may have been intended in the script.

‘Heroes’ was a little production that packed a huge heart. The sizeable opening night audience chuckled along and showed tremendous support for their community that have put this production together.

‘Heroes’ performs until Saturday, 13 April 2019 at the Manly-Lota RSL Hall, Manly.  Tickets are available via their website at www.mercurytheatrewynnum.com.

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